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What Was Wrong with BP Stringer's Town Hall Meeting

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer at the Abrons Center last week
Rob Hollander

Scott Stringer has given us, over the years, reason to expect great things of him as BP. His LES Town Hall Wednesday night was a profound disappointment even for his most faithful fans, myself among them.

Rather than present himself before a level playing field of community voices in the audience, he chose to allow select community voices sit on the dais with him. By having the Community Board and GOLES appear as his co-presenters and partners, he tilted the playing field, effectively marginalizing all the other community voices. This is unfortunate for at least two reasons:

1. This community board has been obstructive to many residents. Appealing to BP Stringer is the recourse for redress of grievance against the CB. Such recourse is made difficult or impossible when the BP is posing with the CB in front of the community and vocally expressing endorsement of it.

2. GOLES is the foremost advocate for Inclusionary Upzoning in our neighborhood, and, not coincidentally, GOLES is also one of the stakeholders in Inclusionary Upzoning. By placing GOLES on the dais, Stringer is giving his imprimatur to the rezoning plan before having heard from local independent (i.e., non funded, unpaid, politically unconnected) community voices. Whether the plan is a good one or not -- and it has some very good points (as well as some questionable ones and some bad ones) – all community voices should be given equal access in the process and not be edged out by those with an organizational stake in the outcome.

It's not entirely Stringer's fault. This Town Hall was arranged with Stringer by the CB chair for the purpose of promoting the GOLES (among others') agenda for the zoning: inclusionary upzoning of large streets in the LES (Houston, Christie and Delancey).

The CB is too close to Stringer and has too much of his ear. Stringer needs to start hearing alternative voices at the grassroots. Some of us must indicate clearly to him the problems with Bloomberg's Inclusionary Upzoning:

1. Upzoning = community displacement. The easy way to uproot a community is to upzone the neighborhood. Apartment warehousing follows upzoning as well as tenant harassment in all forms from the brazenly illegal to the cleverly legal, leading to eventual demolitions and redevelopment. Upzoning opens the door to the four D's: Demolition, Displacement, Development and Demographic transformation. The City currently requires upzoning with Inclusionary Zoning.

2. Because the IZ comes with an upzoning, developers have little incentive to take the IZ bonus. Houston, for example, will be upzoned from 3.44 FAR to 5.4, with a bonus of 7.2 for affordable housing. Why should developers take the trouble of building affordable housing when they are already being given a 5.4 upzoning for free?

Upzoning is the scam at the heart of IZ. Bloomberg/Doctoroff's intent is clearly to upzone – it brings in wealth and revenue – not to create affordable housing that generates no revenue. But to make upzoning seem palatable to communities and housing advocates, they have covered the upzoning with a paltry candy coating, which, unfortunately, melts in your hand, not in your mouth.

What we really need in the East Village is the elimination of the community facility bonus and a program that will preserve the affordable housing and low-income residents we already have here, not replace them. South of Houston should be put on the fast track for R7 contextual zoning separate from the rest of the district.

Addendum on the meeting: Once again the CB chair misinformed the public. This time he "reassured" the audience that in most cases it would be "impossible" (his word) for developers to create the affordable housing off-site. (We remember he "reassured" us in September that Dept. of City Planning had decided to downzone south of Houston residential. We wish Mr. McWater would prioritize accuracy over "reassurances." With so much money at stake and so many political players in the mix, misleading and inaccurate reassurances are dangerous. The public should be encouraged to be vigilant, not lulled to sleep with soporific falsehoods. Let's try to present the plan honestly for no more nor less than what it is.)

The truth is, HPD insists on giving developers flexibility on where to create or refurbish affordable housing. IZ bonuses are bought and sold by developers and affordable housing managers. As a contact at HPD put it, "Oh yeah, IZ bonuses are a market – oh, it's quite a market!"

That Mr. McWater thinks it reassuring that 50% of the newly created affordable housing will be dedicated to community residents is telling. Community residents who apply for affordable housing are either losing or have lost their affordable housing in the community. They fall into a pool of thousands on the waiting lists. That they are given only a 50% chance once they are called from the waiting list is not reassuring to the community at all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe some of in the "Formerly Affordable" housing on grand street can now find new cheap digs if they build them! Don't you think we have enough cheap housing down here already?
Also this meeting was scheduled the same night as ER coop annual meeting so none of us could go.

12/13/2006 12:59 PM  

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